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How to Keep from Embarrassing Yourself Online

How to Keep from Embarrassing Yourself Online

In one Internet discussion group I follow, some of the participants questioned the ethics of a company. The company was accused, among other things, of manipulating the online images of items they were selling to make the items appear more valuable than they were.
The company got wind of this, and its attorney entered the fray. The lawyer, who in a phone interview later admitted he didn’t have much online experience, adopted the rough-and-tumble online manner of some of the company’s critics.
He ridiculed the computer and investigative capabilities of one critic and sarcastically said he was wasting his time. “Perhaps you need some suggestions as to what to do with your time. Perhaps you should take up knitting.”
He called his critics names such as “fool,” “joke” and “loser.”
He made veiled legal threats. “Are you inviting, or daring, us to sue you?”
He pounded his chest. “I will hound that poor excuse of a human being until he yells uncle or stops posting vapid, unproven horse nonsense that all of you seem to believe.”
When people questioned his tactics, he tried to justify them by saying, “Why is it okay for that hot-air blower to keep ranting and raving and not for someone to do the same thing to him?”
The above is how not to conduct yourself online.
What started out as a minor conflict involving a handful of people escalated into a major brouhaha with scores of people expressing outrage at this company’s behavior. The company undoubtedly lost customers as a result.
Instead of engaging in gutter fighting, the lawyer should have taken the high road. Instead of posting dozens of angry, sarcastic responses to others’ messages, he should have posted a single message thanking the company’s critics for their feedback and offering to look into the company’s marketing tactics. Then he should have followed through.
People have been making mistakes like this online since the beginning of the online era. “The Guide for Posting to Newsgroups” and “The Usenet Guide to Power Posting,” which have both been around for years, are designed to prevent these mistakes, or at least shed humorous light on them.
Various people have contributed tidbits to these documents. Both are tongue-in-cheek, yet wise. Here are edited highlights from each, plus additional tidbits.
• If you post and pretend to be a fool, people will believe you.
• Lurk until you get a feel for what’s acceptable in a particular discussion group, then leap in and do the opposite.
• When people post deliberately inflammatory messages, they have no control over whether they succeed. You do.
• A person who says, “Sorry, I had to point that out to you,” is always telling two lies.
• People always start out equal in Internet discussion groups. The playing field is level, and if you object to it, you reveal your inferiority.
• You are a vibrant, intelligent and unique individual with a great deal to contribute. So is everyone else.
• If you post something funny or clever or wise, keep in mind that you’re about the 4,000th person to do so.
• The exclamation point denotes emphasis. The double exclamation point denotes that you think your concerns are more important than anyone else’s.
• Use the smiley — which looks like this 🙂 and is a sideways representation of a smiling face — to your advantage. You can call anyone just about anything as long as you include the smiley. With really nasty attacks add “No flames, please.”
• If you can’t say something nice about someone, say it on the Internet.
• When in doubt, insult.
• Saying “grow up” or “get a life” always does just the reverse. You don’t stop a flamewar by pouring on gasoline. The best way to quash a flamewar is to ignore it. If a flame happens in a vacuum, it won’t burn.
• If you want to win a flamewar, look good in the eyes of a reasonable person. Instead of invective, use logic; instead of mindless bravado, use mindful self-deprecation; instead of fury, use humor.
• Fabricate things about your opponent. You can make your lies sound true by prefacing your statements with the word “clearly.”
• The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post . . . and vice versa.
Internet discussion groups at times appear to be founts of perspicacity and wisdom, at other times the ultimate refuge for sociopaths releasing years of pent-up frustration.
The demise of Internet discussion groups is imminent — and always will be.     

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or

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